ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There weren't many kids who bought Demaryius Thomas' Santa Claus disguise.
Thomas did his best to hide his face, occasionally pulling the uncomfortable fake beard up over the bottom of his nose and holding up the stuffing in his midsection that helped hide a physique that Santa could never maintain with his diet of cookies and milk.
The Broncos hosted about 150 children from all 15 branches of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver for a holiday party featuring Broncos players. (Photos by Ben Swanson)
But the children, there at Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse for a Boys & Girls Club holiday party, were just as happy to see Thomas as they would have been for Santa Claus — or close to it, anyway. As Thomas made his way to each activity station, the kids crowded him for photos, to say hello or to simply get a glimpse at a Santa Claus who has gone to five consecutive Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl.
"Hands down the best night of the week so far," Thomas said. "It's nothing like coming back and being Santa Claus for the kids, seeing smiles on their faces. When I was a kid, I was the same way, happy when I saw Santa. To be able to come and have fun with the kids and be the Santa that everybody wishes for — which I'm not — but they were good sports. I had fun, you see everybody out here having fun. I might look into doing this again."
Thomas wasn't the only Bronco on hand Monday night. About a dozen players spent their evening hanging out with the kids, throwing footballs, taking photos, doing arts and crafts or singing karaoke. Former Broncos star Steve Atwater also took part, offering a helping hand to Max Garcia at the karaoke station.
"It's just a matter of putting in a little time and you can make kids' days," Atwater said. "It's a lot of fun for us being out here. A lot of kids don't realize how much joy it gives us to be able to see them smiling like this."
Throughout his time around the organization, whether as a player or now as an ambassador, Atwater has always made an effort to contribute to the community, whether with his time or other means. For him, that's just what it means to be a part of the organization and a part of Colorado.
"Colorado is such a warm place in the regard that those who can do, they help out people who are less fortunate or for whatever reason aren't having a great time," Atwater said. "And the Denver Broncos organization has always been in lock step with the community in that regard. Everybody who can help out, they do. That's what I've noticed here in Colorado, more so than any other place that I've lived, and that's one of the things I love about being here."
For the kids, some of whom are homeless or food-insecure or who face tough challenges at home, the night is one to remember and cherish.
"They love it," said Erin Porteous, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver. "I think one of the main things is they talk about the players all the time, so meeting them for the first time and to be able to have that lasting impression is really special for them. Then, when they watch a Broncos game, they're like, 'I've met that person!' That's really meaningful to them, especially at such a young age when they're learning, 'Who are the people I want to look up to?' and 'Who are my role models?'"
And so as the night came to a close, the children may not have left with sugarplums dancing in their heads, but they left with memories they'll hold long after the holiday season has ended.